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Book Review – Change Management in Information Services – Cen (Mia) Zhao

by on November 11, 2007

The book on Change Management in Information Services by Lyndon Pugh reminded me a lot of management issues we talked about in lectures including how to set up vision, organize team, empower action and build trust in organizations. They all emphasize on the role of people in implementing the change and in accepting it. Human being has been the key success factor for the whole changing process in the organizations. The author focuses on all the possibilities and methods to enlist support of organization’s members and to empower them, to make them responsible for the outcome of the change planning and implementation.

The book reflects the interest of the author in the topic, as well as his experience. Although written for information service specialists, it deals with general change management issues and covers various aspects: characteristics of change, organizational and change theories, change strategies, processes and models, team-work and leadership role in change management, psychology of change and skills.[1]

Among these topics, the key issue is how people react in face of the change in information services, especially the library services. In the book, Pugh points to the changes which have occurred as a result of digitization and the spread of the WWW, changing the relationship between librarian and user. With the development of digital libraries, more and more library services can be performed online so that people have to learn some computer skills to perform job they used to do. This book indicated that this will result in a change culture. However, there is an assumption underlying this: Staff will want to change. In reality, people do resist change, even when the reasons for it are cogent and indeed unanswerable. In the class, we have discussed different kinds of people who may be against and have negative attitudes towards the changes. Some people may have concerns about their possible benefits in the future while others are probably just not willing to try new stuff. As we all know, human beings always fear the unknown or uncertain things. Therefore, such resistance is hard to avoid in the real world.

Of course, one answer is that staff, if they will not change, is redundant. However, many organizations may have human resources policies which do not allow for mass dismissal and the re-hiring of more suitable people.[2] Apart from little mention of change being imposed from outside the information service, Pugh did not talk about the external and unalterable constraints. If we consider these limitations, the key issue will become how to make people change in the organizations. As we discussed in class, there are several possible ways to deal with that situation.

One of the most important ways, which is mentioned both in the book and class, is communication. In the book, Pugh emphasizes the importance of communication: both formal communication from the senior management team to other teams and the informal communications networks which exist within any medium-sized organization. Sometimes, informal communication will become more important in internal communication. Pugh draw a diagram related to relationship of organizational communication. In the diagram, everyone talks to almost everyone else, and all of them, except the Director of Media Services, whose only external contact is the Director of Information Services, will talk to people outside the group.

I would question that the real world may be different, which is much more unstructured. It is not enough to know whether everyone has internal or external connection. In order to make people change, we also need to 1) understand who is talking to whom, how frequently, and about what, 2) understand who is interacting with whom, how frequently, and in what ways and 3) identify the focal points of the network, on the basis of the number of exchanges and interactions individuals are involved in.2 This chapter also reminds me that issue we talked on class: small changes can have unpredictable and major impacts to the entire organization. In some cases, one small informal gathering or retreat will make people change their attitudes, which is the key success factor of the organizational change. What’s more, small changes here always occur during the informal communication. Usually, in the informal meeting or gathering, communication among employees will become much more efficient and effective. Use myself for example, I am more easily influenced my co-worker’s advice than formal announcement or news in company meeting.

The other important way, which is also discussed in the book, is leadership. The book did mention that managing the movement from the current position to the desired one, while maintaining the development of the organizations, is one of the primary tasks of leadership. Like what we talked in the class, leadership takes an important role in the change process. A lot of people will not change until somebody else step up and lead them to do. People need some directions when choices are there. Also, sometimes, people even will not think about that they have to change if no one says that out. In a lot of cases, lack of appropriate leadership makes change failure at the end.

I believe, no matter in leadership or in communication, the most important point is to build trust. What is trust? Trust is both and emotional and logical act. Emotionally, it is where you expose your vulnerabilities to people, but believing they will not take advantage of your openness. Logically, it is where you have assessed the probabilities of gain and loss, calculating expected utility based on hard performance data, and concluded that the person in question will behave in a predictable manner. In practice, trust is a bit of both. I trust you because I have experienced your trustworthiness and because I have faith in human nature[3]. So, trust could be built both through formal and informal communications. Logical way of trust could be attained via the report of work, meeting and other formal communication ways while emotional trust could be got from the informal way such as having a beer at the bar.

Also, it is the same with leadership. The results of work can build someone’s credibility as a leader. However, in a lot of situations, it is not enough. Like the case we talked about on class, the board member still felt threatened even the CEO did excellent job in the company. Why? The reason is that the emotional trust was not built among them. Board members felt threatened shows they still doubted whether CEO would do something wrong. With such concerns, they hoped to be well informed of things happening in the company and to let CEO slow down the speed of meeting. In this case, we can see that trust is not just based on the logical data and facts and emotional influence is also very important. Sometimes, it is even more important than logical trust. In order to build such trust, information communication is necessary among employees in the company.

One chapter that impressed me most is the psychology of change. This chapter focuses on the feelings of the staff involved in the change and the attitudes of managers and others involved in change initiatives. If we look further, we will see that actual change itself is the change of people and the change of people is actually the change of people’s attitudes. The process of changing people’s perceptions could be a iterate process that presented in the book. However, in my point of view, the psychological process is so complex that we cannot use structural model to predict them. Although we have some assumptions such as people would like to pursue the maximum profits, in reality, a lot of other factors will affect the process of people’s attitudes.

Given the whole impression of this book, I think this book is good at summarizing and generalizing the rules and principals of change management in information services. It is intended to be cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, and innovative approaches to participative change in organizational settings. However, since it is written to provide theory and advice to the application, what I would like to critique is that these theories live in an ideal world which is rarely reflected in any actual environment. It is more about what should be targeted at than how to achieve it. Pugh also pointed this out in his book:

‘All change projects are unique. The variables of organizational characteristics, leadership, environmental influences and skills and competencies, for example, all act to change the weighting given to the various steps in the process.

Therefore, I believe every scenario has it own specific solutions. The theories and principals of change management might help organizations, including libraries, analyze some problem and target at some change aspects. But if we want to know how people and organization change in the real world, I believe the book still needs more case studies in the real world to help to explain these theories and to let us think further.


[1] Information Research.. (n.d.). Book Review: Change management in information services. Retrieved . , 2007, from http://informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs279.html

[2] ARIADNE.. (n.d.). News and Reviews. Retrieved . , 2007, from http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue52/lovecy-rvw/

[3] ChangingMinds.org.. (n.d.). What is trust? Retrieved . , 2006, from http://changingminds.org/explanations/trust/what_is_trust.htm

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